The Size of the Lgbt Population and the Magnitude of Anti-Gay Sentiment are Substantially Underestimated

38 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2013 Last revised: 22 Oct 2015

See all articles by Katherine Coffman

Katherine Coffman

Ohio State University (OSU) - Economics

Lucas C. Coffman

Ohio State University (OSU) - Economics; Harvard University

Keith M. Marzilli Ericson

Boston University - Markets, Public Policy, and Law; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: October 2013

Abstract

Measuring sexual orientation, behavior, and related opinions is difficult because responses are biased towards socially acceptable answers. We test whether measurements are biased even when responses are private and anonymous and use our results to identify sexuality-related norms and how they vary. We run an experiment on 2,516 U.S. participants. Participants were randomly assigned to either a "best practices method" that was computer-based and provides privacy and anonymity, or to a "veiled elicitation method" that further conceals individual responses. Answers in the veiled method preclude inference about any particular individual, but can be used to accurately estimate statistics about the population. Comparing the two methods shows sexuality-related questions receive biased responses even under current best practices, and, for many questions, the bias is substantial. The veiled method increased self-reports of non-heterosexual identity by 65% (p<0.05) and same-sex sexual experiences by 59% (p<0.01). The veiled method also increased the rates of anti-gay sentiment. Respondents were 67% more likely to express disapproval of an openly gay manager at work (p<0.01) and 71% more likely to say it is okay to discriminate against lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals (p<0.01). The results show non-heterosexuality and anti-gay sentiment are substantially underestimated in existing surveys, and the privacy afforded by current best practices is not always sufficient to eliminate bias. Finally, our results identify two social norms: it is perceived as socially undesirable both to be open about being gay, and to be unaccepting of gay individuals.

Suggested Citation

Coffman, Katherine and Coffman, Lucas C. and Ericson, Keith M. Marzilli, The Size of the Lgbt Population and the Magnitude of Anti-Gay Sentiment are Substantially Underestimated (October 2013). NBER Working Paper No. w19508. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2336373

Katherine Coffman (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Economics ( email )

410 Arps Hall
1945 N. High St.
Columbus, OH 43210-1172
United States

Lucas C. Coffman

Ohio State University (OSU) - Economics ( email )

410 Arps Hall
1945 N. High St.
Columbus, OH 43210-1172
United States

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Keith M. Marzilli Ericson

Boston University - Markets, Public Policy, and Law ( email )

Boston, MA
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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